Potassium disorders are commonly encountered in emergency medicine [1]. Their management relies on a thorough understanding of fluid, electrolyte and acid base balance as these are intimately linked to understanding potassium disturbances.

Disorders of potassium balance may be asymptomatic or they may present with diverse clinical symptoms, arrhythmias or other electrocardiography (ECG) abnormalities.

In which three situations do disorders of potassium balance occur?

  1. Abnormal intake – either relatively too much or too little
  2. Abnormal distribution – between the intracellular and extracellular spaces
  3. Abnormal excretion – renally or from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Laboratory reference ranges for normal serum potassium vary slightly, but are typically 3.5 – 5 mmol/L.